Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Scott Walker, The Anti-Jeb

In just a few months, Gov. Walker has become the leading alternative to Jeb Bush.

By - Apr 7th, 2015 12:59 pm
Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush. Photo from facebook.

Wisconsin is famous for its uber-thrifty, coupon-clipping folk, and Scott Walker has learned that culture well, if we can believe his by-now standard stump speech running for president:

“I go to that Kohl’s rack that says it was $29.99 and now it’s $19.99. And then I get the Sunday insert out with that little scratch-off, and I take it up to the cash register with my Kohl’s credit card. And then I take the mailer that we get because we shop there a lot. And sometimes it’s 15 percent or 20 percent off. And, if we’re really lucky it’s 30 percent off… And then we pull out the Kohl’s Cash and we lay that out on the counter. And the next thing you know they’re paying me to buy that shirt.”

The conservative Republican crowds Walker is courting apparently love it, and the little homily hammers home that he’s the everyman candidate, unlike a certain plutocrat widely seen as front runner for the GOP presidential nomination. “We didn’t inherit a lot from our family. We certainly didn’t inherit fame and fortune,” Walker told Republicans in South Carolina.

Yes, Walker lets the crowds know his father was a small-town preacher and his mother’s family did not have indoor plumbing until she went to junior high. Next we’ll be hearing about the primitive state of his great grand-parents privy.

The message behind all the folksiness could hardly be clearer: Walker is the anti-Jeb, the un-Bush, as different as different can be. Jeb Bush is country club, Walker is Sam’s Club. Jeb was born to wealth, Walker to small town humility. Jeb is the grandson of a U.S. Senator and son and brother of presidents, Walker built a political career all on his own. Jeb is a fancy intellectual, a voracious reader and self-described nerd, while Walker is more down-to-earth, a college dropout who never mentions books and seems uninterested (if not downright scornful) of the intellectual world.

Then there’s the age difference. Baby boomer Jeb is 62, Gen Xer Walker is 47; as he puts it, “If we’re running against Hillary Clinton, we’ll need a name from the future – not a name from the past –  to win.”

And that message really hits at Jeb’s soft spot. Sixty percent of all registered voters (including 42 percent of Republicans) say Bush represents a return to the policies of the past, while 51 percent of all voters (but just 24 percent of Democrats) think Clinton represents a return to the policies of the past. Walker can run against both as the voice of a new generation.

Walker also offers a clear contrast on the issues. He flip-flopped early on as governor and decided he opposes the Common Core education standards, which Bush supports; and polls show 52 percent of potential GOP primary voters unfavorably view a candidate who supports them. In addition, 62 percent of them are opposed to a candidate who supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and here, too, Bush seems less tough on immigration than Walker (though both have gone back and forth on the issue).

Bush gave an early speech in Detroit to dramatize the need to give more opportunity to those left behind by the changing economy. Walker, by contrast, crows about slashing benefits for public employees and drug testing of food stamp recipients. It’s a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Bush wants to expand the ever-tighter Republican tent to embrace an ever-more multicultural nation, a quest dramatized by his Mexican-born wife and his ability to speak Spanish. Walker’s strategy, by contrast, is to hammer harder on the tent stakes.

It’s about “turning out disaffected white men,” as Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent has noted, adding that a Walker adviser didn’t dispute the idea.

Walker is the red meat Republican, throwing every bone he can to hard-core conservatives. He is running to win the primary (and then watch him scurry toward the middle, as he did in the 2014 governor’s race). Bush, by contrast, is running more with the general election in mind, trying to avoid boxing himself into a right-wing corner, as Mitt Romney did to win the 2012 nomination. But that only works if Bush wins the nomination.

And that’s far from assured. “If Jeb could just run against, say, Carson, Huckabee and Cruz, it wouldn’t matter that voters don’t want to be represented by another scion of the Bush dynasty,” writes New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat. “But right now, in Walker and Marco Rubio, Bush faces two opponents whose backgrounds and identities — the working-class slayer of unions, the self-made immigrant’s son — match the way Republican voters want to think about their party in a way that a silver-spoon politician, whatever his record, never will.”

And right now, it’s Walker, not Rubio, who is by far the tougher opponent. Walker has come from nowhere: a year ago he was behind five or six GOP candidates and rarely mentioned, but by late February he had risen ahead of everyone but Bush. Real Clear Politics shows the change over the last year in the polls and now has Bush and Walker as a virtual tie.

The Bush approach has been to corral all the top GOP advisors on foreign policy (Walker could certainly use some of them) and grab all the campaign donations, thus making his nomination an inevitability. But the latter is much more difficult in the post-Citizens United era, when there are few restraints on donations from the wealthy and far more money is available.

Indeed, Walker, always an aggressive campaigner, is having a good deal of success in this sphere. As CNN reported, “several GOP operatives in Bush’s orbit conceded… a substantial chunk of GOP financiers have taken a liking to (Walker). And Republican fundraisers have told CNN donors are lining up to meet with him as he’s rocketing up in the polls. In California, Florida and New York — all states with large pools of potential donors attractive to candidates — Walker has come away with commitments from millionaires and billionaires who will help him compete financially against Bush.”

Meanwhile, Bush’s early poll numbers “are strikingly weak when you factor in his famous name and the enormous expectations surrounding his candidacy,” MSNBC notes. “His support in national polls is running in the mid-teens. To put that perspective, just look at how recent GOP nominees were faring in polls at roughly this same point in their campaigns:

* In January 1987, George H.W. Bush led the GOP field with 36% – 21 points better than his nearest foe, Bob Dole.

* In March 1995, Bob Dole was at 60% – 47 points above second place Phil Gramm.

* In March 1999, George W. Bush polled at 53%, compared to just 16 for closest rival Elizabeth Dole.”

As the story notes, John McCain and Mitt Romney both polled in the teens (like Jeb) at this point of the primary, but both McCain and Romney “were forced to endure much trickier paths to the nomination.”

In short, Jeb Bush’s front runner status is a tad shaky, Walker has emerged as the clear alternative and it remains to be seen if Rubio (who must fight Bush from the same state base of Florida) will run. Ted Cruz immediately shot up in the polls after announcing his run for president, but Walker remains the candidate with the highest favorability rating from Republican voters, as a new Monmouth University poll found.

“Scott Walker may be that rare candidate who has true cross-over appeal in all wings of the GOP, ” as Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, noted to the Washington Times. “The more Republican voters get to know him, the more they like him; and that goes for conservatives, moderates, and Tea Party supporters alike.”

Short Take

The ever-wily Walker did a wonderful job of damning Jeb Bush with faint praise. “Jeb’s a good man. You’re not going to hear me speak ill will of Jeb. He’s a friend of mine,” Walker told the Washington Post.

Then he went on to suggest that Bush was “a name from the past” who is simply cashing in on past favors owed to his family: “There’s a lot of people who are loyal to that family because of an ambassadorship or an appointment or something like that, so those people are going to show up big on his first report. What we’re hoping going forward are not donors of obligation but donors of passion, people who are passionate about the reforms we bring to the table.”

With friends like that, Bush may be thinking, who needs enemies?

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

19 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Scott Walker, The Anti-Jeb”

  1. PMD says:

    How many different candidates polled well (led in at least one poll) prior to Romney winning the nomination? At least 5 if I remember correctly. Walker is having his moment, but there is just no way he is the GOP nominee for president.

  2. Will says:

    @PMR, I respectfully disagree, I believe Walker will win the Republican nomination. I do not see the Republican base getting behind Bush and I feel the same way about Hillary and the Dems. I have yet to see or hear anyone truly get behind either Bush or Clinton, but there are Walker “die hards” all over the place. Maybe I am naïve, but this fundraising war chest both Bush and Clinton are accumulating means something, but it alone won’t win the presidency. I think the perfect storm is in place for Walker to ultimately win the presidency.

  3. John G. says:

    Courting the lowest common denominator for Republican voters will not win a nomination.

  4. tim haering says:

    You know what, Bruce, Obama was the “un-Bush” too. One more thing Walker has in common with Obama. Famous pollster on O’Reilly last week, Sabato I think, suggested Walker had something in common with Obama. “They’re completely different people,” O’Reilly asserted. “I can’t imagine what they have I common.” And even while this pollster is saying, “Both of them ran for president with no foreign policy experience,” O’Reilly was already rebutting, talking over the guy in his infuriatingly idiomatic style, “That’s silly. They have nothing in common.”

    Obama, like Walker, was a one-tem office holders with zero foreign policy experience in 2003 when he got talked into running for president. At least Walker has some executive experience, though it’s not national or international. And Walker isn’t half the orator Obama is. Obama and Walker were “un-Bushes” with no foreign policy experience when readying to run. Even though Walker is also being implied as an un-Obama, he is exactly Obama – a novelty president.

    Walker: A middle-class suburban president with no college degree and no discernable intellectual curiosity. How novel. Let’s try that.

    Please, no more experimental presidents.

    I wonder if Walker ever read “Dutch,” the original Reagan biography by Edmund Morris. Morris’ book, though he was the anointed biographer, was rejected by Reaganites because it seemed to suggest that Reagan acted his way through the presidency. That seems to be what Walker is trying to do.

  5. PMD says:

    Will that is extremely flimsy evidence. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have diehards as well. So does Marco Rubio. That Walker has ardent fans hardly means he will be the GOP nominee, much less become president. His pandering to voters in Iowa makes him seem way more Mike Huckabee than Mitt Romney (did he have any diehards?). He’s having his moment, and it will pass.

  6. Allison says:

    Jeb and Hillary are out there raising money from the same Wall Street banks. I think alot of people will sit that one out if those are our choices. Hoping for some new ideas and some new faces on both sides.

  7. PMD says:

    Maybe Allison, but people are always griping about politicians and how awful they are, and incumbents still win the vast majority of the time. I wouldn’t hold my breath for many new ideas.

  8. Will says:

    @PMD, I think that the last 2 elections there was a wave that got behind Obama. I don’t think this election will be like that. I think it will come down to “settling” for a candidate. I think, just my opinion, that at the end of the day Walker will be the guy. I just don’t see anyone else being more of everyone’s “second choice” than Walker. I have no faith in Bush getting the nod. Your run of the mill Rep. just doesn’t seem to want another Bush. You are right that Cruz, Paul and Rubio have die hards but not on the same level as Walker. I think unions and the Dem party are the reason for this thanks to the recall election. Say what you will about Walker, but the guy has proven he can win elections in the face of great adversity

  9. Will says:

    I always get back to the question of, “If not Walker, than who?” Each candidate that comes to mind, just doesn’t seem to have as much going for him than Walker does. Walker seems to have had more national exposure than Rubio Paul and Cruz combined since the recall election (more or less..) Walker established a national donor pool thanks to the recall election. Anyone that pays attention has been exposed to what Walker stands for, whether they agree with him or not. On the Republican side, there is pretty much a distaste for unions on all spectrums. Walker took down unions in WI. When your average voter thinks of Walker they think, “took down unions” which is a major plus on the Rep. side. My guess is when they think of the other four candidates they really aren’t sure what it is they stand for and most voters are too lazy to figure it out. Paul is a little to libertarian and Cruz is a little to conservative. Walker tests well on the full spectrum of Rep. I could see Rubio becoming Walkers VP choice. Also, Walkers “moment” would have passed already. The guy is in the news just as much and the polls have been pretty steady. Again, “If not Walker, than who?”

  10. PMD says:

    I don’t think that Walker has anywhere near the national exposure as Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. Paul has a famous father and has been generating national headlines for years. And Cruz has been a tea party darling also generating national headlines for years. And their diehards are just as fanatical as Walker’s. Paul in particular has pretty vocal and dedicated followers. You seem a little myopic here, like you’re trying really hard to convince yourself that Walker is the guy no matter what. I still think he’s a pretty big unknown in most places outside of Wisconsin. He’ll do well with Iowa voters, and maybe South Carolina’s, but so did people like Huckabee and Gingrich.

  11. Will says:

    “I don’t think that Walker has anywhere near the national exposure as Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.”

    I respectfully disagree. Remember the recall election? It was global news. Covered on every news station for weeks. Front page of NYtimes, WSJ, and BBC. The DNC came after Walker in ways that Cruz hasn’t even come close. Paul def does have a loyal following, I just don’t think it is enough to win the nomination. Again, compared to “tea party darling” Cruz, Walker has polled as appealing to the entire Repub. base.

  12. Will says:

    Additionally, you write that Cruz has been “generating national headlines for years.” I can not think of one headline he has generated, at least not one that comes remotely close to the headlines from the recall election. Can you name one that comes close?

  13. PMD says:

    If you haven’t seen national headlines for Ted Cruz, you haven’t been paying attention. He’s received a ton of coverage for being a tea party darling and for annoying his own party, going back year. I’ve heard stories on NPR and read stories in the New York Times, Slate, The Washington Post, and many more.

    You seem like a Walker backer with an agenda here. Nothing can convince you that he isn’t going to be the nominee. I’m not talking about polling. I agree, right now he is polling well. But at least 5 candidates other than Romney polled well in 2012. That doesn’t really prove anything. And I don’t think Rand Paul will be the nominee either, but his passionate followers are as loyal as Walker’s, if not more so.

  14. Will says:

    For the record, I support Rand Paul. Ok, if you want to consider “national news”, 3rd page articles and quotes in major news outlets, then ok, Cruz has been in a lot of them. Nothing close to the recall election, which is what I consider “national news”, which maybe you would classify as “national headlines.”

  15. Will says:

    “Nothing can convince you that he isn’t going to be the nominee.”

    I can very much be convinced, you just haven’t done anything to convince me! You haven’t negated my argument that Walker has been more prominently in the “headlines” and you haven’t negated my argument that Walker has wider appeal than Paul or Cruz. I also argued that Walker has a better fundraising base than anyone other than Bush. Convince me! #Paul’16

  16. Kyle says:

    Walker does have more attention right now, and I think that’s reflected in his poll numbers. I don’t think this year will be quite as ridiculous as 2012 was for the Republican primaries, but I do think that Bush will end up as the default candidate. Paul does have a rabid following, but while he benefits from his father’s network, he’s also hindered by it. It will be hard for him to convince most of the party that he’s more Republican than libertarian. Cruz has a lot of name recognition, but he also has a habit of making enemies. That’s gotten him a lot of fans, but not everyone wants to see us start defaulting to prove a point. Walker is better positioned than those two to cover the bases of the party better. He’s not great on foreign policy, but he’s not as bad as Paul. He’s willing to take on fights in politics, though not as recklessly or passionately as Cruz. He has that son-of-a-preacher thing going for him too. (Yes, I know some of you are thinking “preacher” was the wrong word there) What’s going to get him is education. Lack of a degree and taking on teachers and universities will play well in some areas, but I suspect it will have issues along the coasts, and that issue will only magnify with a year’s worth of chances to make mistakes. Plus, the Republican party traditionally sends the presumed next-man-up as the candidate. I suspect Walker stays ahead of Paul and Cruz, but that those three split the anti-Bush 60% that Bush’s 40% ends up making him the candidate.

    It’s the other side I’m more interested in. Hillary was a stronger candidate in 2008 when she got swept aside by an upstart. Can someone step in right before the primaries and take advantage of her inability to excite the base and general fatigue of hearing about her?

  17. PMD says:

    Maybe to someone in Wisconsin who sticks to local media outlets, it does seem like Walker generates more headlines than Cruz or Paul. But I know Cruz and Paul have generated the headlines because I have read and heard the stories. Not third-page mentions, but front-page headlines. During the whole debate over the government shutdown, Ted Cruz was headline news on a regular basis in the Washington Post (among other places). I’m not sure why that’s so difficult to believe. I figure it would be common knowledge.

  18. PMD says:

    That will be interesting Kyle, but I imagine she is more formidable in her party than Bush is in his. Jim Webb? Martin O’Malley? Those guys don’t stand a chance, and neither does Elizabeth Warren if she decides to run.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us